News Archive

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Helps Institute Launch Its First Semester

By Andrew Cohen

By hosting a top Israeli justice, a former U.S. ambassador, as well as international scholars, the Berkeley Institute for Jewish Law and Israeli Law, Economy and Society is off to a productive start in its first full semester on campus.

“Our ability to immediately draw great speakers and collaborate with so many other departments has been very exciting,” Executive Director Daniella Beinisch said. “People are eager to hear about our topics, and we’re happy to give them the platform to host events and promote dialogue.”

Launched in April, the institute seeks to expand opportunities for research, programming, course development, and discourse around Jewish and Israel-related scholarship. On August 30th, the institute co-sponsored a packed-house talk by Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. Ambassador to both Egypt and Israel, who spoke on “Revolution and Change in the Middle East: Policy Challenges for the U.S.”

On the heels of Kurtzer’s talk, Eliezer Rivlin—deputy president of the Israeli Supreme Court—arrived as an institute scholar-in-residence for 2½ weeks. Last Friday, he visited the San Francisco office of Howard Rice, where he met with Berkeley Law alumni and area practitioners and provided an insider’s view of the Israeli legal system.

“Justice Rivlin has been very enthusiastic about the institute and how Berkeley Law is doing more and more work on Israel and Israeli-related activity,” Beinisch said. “He knows the law school has built many relationships with Israeli academics over the years, and he’s been willing to speak to any forum—so we’re keeping him busy.”

Rivlin on Torts

On September 12th, Rivlin gave a presentation called “Law and Economics in the Israeli Legal System: Why Learned Hand Never Made it to Jerusalem.” Rivlin examined the impact of Hand, a noted judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit who crafted a popular formula for determining negligence.

“Hand’s formula was adopted for its economic efficiency as a way to minimize corrective costs,” Rivlin said. “His formula was often criticized for its ‘deep moral failure,’ because it didn’t factor in moral or just consideration, just efficiency. It seemed to suggest a rigid framework when it came to tort cases, but one that offered a logical and systematic tool for adjudication.”

Rivlin delved deeper into Hand’s theories while co-teaching Professor Stephen Sugarman’s Torts class. One of his well-known decisions on the Israeli Supreme Court dealt with a child from a poor village who was disabled by a negligent driver. The Court found that the young girl could recover damages based on the earnings of an average Israeli even though women in her famil had been poorly educated and rarely entered the paid workforce.

“Justice Rivlin explained that in 20 years things might be different and that this girl had the right to hope for a more successful education and career than her mother and grandmother had,” Sugarman said. “That generated a lot of questions and comments from my students.”

On the Horizon

This week, the institute is co-sponsoring talks in Moses Hall by Mirjam Triendl-Zadoff and Noam Zadoff of the University of Munich. On Monday, Triendl-Zadoff discussed Marienbad, a spa town in Bohemia that was an intellectual and spiritual venue for Hebrew and Yiddish writers in the late 19th century. On Thursday, Zadoff will explore “Israeli Intellectuals and the Six-Day War” and the different political and ideological positions in post-war Israel represented by writer Moshe Shamir, politician and journalist Uri Avneri, and poet and linguist Yonatan Ratosh.

In the spring, the institute is hosting a major international conference with UC Berkeley Haas School of Business on “Israel through the High-Tech Lens,” which will convene high-profile speakers from Israel, Silicon Valley, and other parts of the U.S. The event will consider the legal, business, economic, and social elements of Israel's high-tech boom—one that has already attracted the involvement of many Bay Area law firms, tech companies, and venture capital firms.

The institute will also co-sponsor a comparative Islamic-Jewish law conference next year on “Legal Heterodoxy in Medieval Islamic and Jewish History.”

As part of the institute’s regular programming, faculty and graduate students discuss their research at monthly colloquia and attend guest lectures together, creating a campus community of those interested in Israel-related issues. “A big part of our mission is to collaborate with other institutes and departments at UC Berkeley and develop an interdisciplinary mindset built on strong relationships,” said Kenneth Bamberger, the institute’s faculty director.

The institute already has 40 affiliated faculty members—up from 15 when it launched in April. That growth is crucial, Bamberger said, because “we have great minds contributing many different perspectives.” Faculty members work in a variety of disciplines such as economics, business, political science, history, sociology, and Jewish studies.